April 6, 2009
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
DERRICK D. DIXON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Municipal Appeal No. 43-2007.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 17, 2009
Before Judges Wefing and Yannotti.
After the municipal court denied his motion to suppress, defendant Derrick D. Dixon entered a conditional plea of guilty to driving while intoxicated (DWI), in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, and careless driving, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.
Defendant filed a de novo appeal to the Law Division, which entered an order dated June 11, 2008, affirming the denial of the motion to suppress and sentencing defendant to, among other things, a seven-month suspension of his driving privileges and twelve-hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. This appeal followed. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
This matter arises from the following facts, drawn from the testimony presented in the municipal court on defendant's motion to suppress. On March 24, 2007, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Trooper Simes (Simes) of the New Jersey State Police was patrolling in the vicinity of Prospect and Church Streets in Trenton. Simes testified that he observed an automobile stop to drop off a passenger.
Simes stated that the automobile then "took off and swerved . . . all the way to the right almost hitting the curb." Simes said that if any other vehicles had been in the area, the automobile "probably would [have] hit one of [those] cars." Simes testified that the automobile "came that close to hitting the curb."
Simes did not take immediate action. He followed the automobile "to see if [the driver] was going to commit any other infractions." The vehicle drove around the block about three or four times, after which Simes stopped the car.
Simes approached the vehicle. He identified defendant as the driver. Simes detected the odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle. He asked defendant whether he had consumed any alcohol, and defendant replied that he had one beer and "had smoked some marijuana as well."
Defendant argues that the trial court should have suppressed the evidence obtained during the motor vehicle stop because the trooper allegedly did not have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that defendant had violated N.J.S.A. 39:4-97, which provides that: "[a] person who drives a vehicle carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property, shall be guilty of careless driving."
We have thoroughly reviewed the record in light of this contention and conclude that defendant's argument is entirely without merit. We accordingly affirm substantially for the reasons stated by the trial court in the decision it placed on the record on June 6, 2008. R. 2:11-3(e)(2). We add the following brief comments.
It is well-established that, in order to justify a motor vehicle stop, a law enforcement officer must have "'an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the driver has committed a motor vehicle offense.'" State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470 (1999) (quoting State v. Smith, 306 N.J. Super. 370, 380 (App. Div. 1997)). "To satisfy the articulable and reasonable suspicion standard, the State is not required to prove that the suspected motor-vehicle violation occurred." Ibid. (citing State v. Williamson, 138 N.J. 302, 304 (1994)).
Notwithstanding defendant's argument to the contrary, we are convinced that the municipal court and the Law Division properly found that Simes had an articulable and reasonable suspicion that defendant committed a motor vehicle violation when the automobile he was driving swerved and nearly hit the curb. In our judgment, the trooper reasonably believed that defendant had driven his vehicle "carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection." N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.
Simes had reason to believe that defendant had driven his car in a manner that was "likely to endanger" himself, his car, any car that might have been parked on the street, as well as any person that might be walking in the area. Although defendant's car did not hit the curb, collide with another vehicle or strike a pedestrian, the trooper nevertheless had an articulable and reasonable suspicion that defendant had driven his car in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-97. Therefore, the municipal court and the Law Division correctly found that the motor vehicle stop was valid.
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